Kitchen Essentials, Part II – Pots and Pans

Well, you’ve got yourself a knife and board. Next up: invaluable, mutli-functional, buy-it-for-life pots and pans.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my favorite piece of cookware in the kitchen is my giant cast-iron skillet, Ol’ Faithful, and we’ll get to that. The reality, though, is it’s not the first thing I’d buy when setting up a new kitchen. That honor goes to Big Red here:

An enameled cast-iron dutch oven. Why does it look like hell? Because it’s been there and back, and delivered everything from Thai coconut curry to fried chicken to rustic loaves of bread along the way.

Why is it called a dutch oven? Well, as I understand it (read: don’t take this as truth), they used to be called “dutch cookers” and harken back to the days of open-fires, where this was the actual oven. It’s not a sauce pot. It’s not exclusively for wet and slow cooking. To the contrary, this thing can do everything from searing, to saute, to deep fry, to dry baking. It’s easily the most versatile object in my kitchen.

The interior is enameled:

Why is this important? Well, unlike raw cast iron, this material is non-reactive, meaning you can cook highly acidic food (like tomato sauce) in it without any weird flavors. It also doesn’t need to be seasoned or maintained like cast iron (more on that shortly), and it holds up to a beating, within reason.

So, the big downside is these CAN BE expensive, but the truth is you don’t need to go with the big name brand, and every piece of enameled iron cookware I have (and I have a lot) came from thrift and discount stores. Also, depending on the brand, some of these have really great warranties in case you accidentally drop it on a brick patio after taking off the charcoal grill in 2015. But I digress.

The point is, this is the Swiss Army Knife (well, pot) of cooking, and you should have one.

Next up? Okay, it’s Ol’ Faithful.

In my time in South Florida, I had to flee my home twice under the presumption that I wouldn’t be returning and a hurricane would blow away everything I owned. Both times I took Big Red and this skillet in my car.

Although my dutch oven does more… stuff, this is the one hunk of metal that gets the most use in my kitchen. It almost never leaves the stove.

So, the thing about raw cast iron is that it gets better the longer you use it, IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. It’s cheap, it retains heat (once it’s hot it stays that way), and it can go from stove top to a blistering oven to a bed of hot coals without so much as a scratch.

It’s also REALLY heavy, and kind of fussy. There are a ton of articles out there about caring for cast iron, and I won’t belabor the point here other than to say, you’ll figure it out.

Bottom line, get this thing in your kitchen, STAT.

Lastly, a nonstick (gasp):

So, there’s a lot of hate out there for non-stick stuff, and a lot of it is deserved. There are health concerns when using it over high heat, it doesn’t hold up at all to rough handling, it’s awful at pretty much everything.

But… it’s irreplaceable for eggs (and a couple other things). My advice? Don’t spend a lot of money on a long-term nonstick. They don’t exist. Just get an “okay” one, and baby it. This thing never sees heat above medium-low, has never been inside my dishwasher, and would probably explode if I ever used a metal utensil on it. Really, eggs (and pancakes) are why I keep this around, but you need one. And yes, you’ll need to replace it eventually, but hey, they’re cheap.

And that’s it. This is my base trifecta of pots-and-pans. These are the three things I couldn’t do without, and were I setting up a new kitchen, they’d be my first buys. Do I have other things that I love and use constantly? Of course, but if you start with these you can figure out your gaps and fill in as needed.

Lastly, a quick word about stainless steel cookware. Yes, I have some. I almost never use it. Why? Well, it was a wedding gift that we were all too happy to have. But over time, we found it was fine… but didn’t do anything particularly well. Searing steaks? Cast iron skillet is better. Tomato sauce? Big red has it covered. In short, there’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but were I outfitting a new kitchen I don’t think I’d buy a single piece. But that’s just me.

Anyway, next time we’ll talk about some accessories, which is where I really think a kitchen is made or broken, and in the interim, go cruise the local flea markets for some Le Creuset

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